Sharkathon: A Revolutionary Concept

Rick Underbrink and Russell Weir
Sharkathon: A Revolutionary Concept
Beach anglers meet for Sharkathon registration.
A shark fisherman once said, "Let's cut out the jaws so I can hang them on my wall."

Looking back at a dried set of shark jaws on the top shelf of the closet for ten years has led to the realization that the memorabilia could have been replaced with a photo. A photo would allow that shark to survive and continue the sport of shark fishing for future generations. The idea of catch, photo, and release laid the foundation for a competition that would renovate the future of shark fishing. Educating anglers old and new with a model to conserve a depleted resource led to the creation of a tournament called Sharkathon.

One evening around a Padre Island campfire, a group of concerned shark fishermen discussed the dismal results of kill tournaments. These gentlemen collectively agreed that fishing tournaments held on Padre Island National Seashore had a negative impact on the ecology of the Island they deeply cherished. Yet, the gentlemen pondered the idea of a new style of contest. By eliminating the negative effects of kill tournaments they jointly conceived the idea of a catch, photo and release shark fishing tournament.

This begs the question how Sharkathon works. How can anglers compete in a shark fishing tournament when the weight or length can't be verified? This was the challenge that defines Sharkathon for its ingenuity and resourcefulness.

The digital age had finally allowed a catch and release tournament to exist. Sharkathon founders designed a format that utilized digital photography and a reference object recognized as the Sharkathon ruler. The ruler measures four feet in length and is given to the contestant on the day of the tournament. The ruler is stretched across the centerline of a captured shark. Multiple photos are taken and the shark is measured and released. Tournament organizers retrieve the photos and analyze them digitally to verify the length of the shark based upon the Sharkathon ruler in the photo.

This proven format has transformed the shark fishing community. Men, women and children are enjoying catch and release shark fishing and the novel idea has spread like wildfire. In just five years, participation has grown from 50 to an astonishing 400 anglers who assemble each year to support the ideology. Competitors are joining the revolution against kill tournaments and feel significance in using the resource responsibly. This is a unique medium, and one that is well-suited to the grassroots approach of raising awareness. It is only through a collective voice that we can make changes in behavior.

That is what makes Sharkathon. A megaphone designed to direct the voices of many into a cohesive message of conservation. Sharkathon has come a long way since that starry night on the beach. After five successful tournaments, Sharkathon has begun looking at the long-range goals for the organization. The future involves collaboration with scientists and researchers to learn more about shark populations and migratory patterns in the Gulf of Mexico. Sharkathon has worked closely with the National Park Service to create an event that reflects the ideology of the park and helps to conserve the wildlife within the park, while providing educational opportunities for participants and spectators alike. This includes increased participation in the Billy Sandifer Big Shell Beach Cleanup.

Sharkathon has earned a reputation for rewarding its participants generously and much credit is due the sponsors and participants of the event. Sharkathon 2008 handed out $24,000 dollars in cash, five kayaks, five custom rod and reel outfits and over $10,000 in door prizes. Each year the payouts and prizes grow to astonishing amounts. To increase sponsorship interest and allow further growth, Sharkathon was incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The organizers do not receive one dollar for putting on this event, a simple sacrifice to spread the word of conservation.

This year's event is scheduled for September 25-27 at Padre Island National Seashore. The award ceremony will be held September 27 at the Briscoe Pavilion in Padre Balli Park near Corpus Christi. This year will likely be the largest Sharkathon ever and, with so many participants, it is more important than ever to have every participant pick up and pack out more trash than they brought in. With an event this large, it is imperative that all participants follow the rules of the park and cooperate with each other to minimize impact on the environment. Trash bags will be distributed to each participant to encourage dispose of all trash in the dumpsters provided by the National Park Service. Padre Island National Seashore is an enchanting place that deserves to be respected by all visitors.

Registration for the tournament is only online and has historically filled fast. The organizers limit the number of participants to minimize impact on the National Park. Anglers can compete in the following divisions: Shark, Trout, Redfish, Tarpon, Women's and Kids. All fish must be released to qualify.

It takes little time to teach a person why it is important to release sharks, but once the seed has been planted, many anglers see the value and participate willingly. Sharkathon encourages like-minded anglers to join in spreading the word of conservation and recruiting new members into the world of catch and release. Join the revolution where the only thing taken from the sea is a memory and a photograph. A set of shark jaws never showed a smile anyways. Catch, Smile, Photo, Release!

For more information about Sharkathon, please visit our website at